We spent a sunny summer afternoon with Sarah Margolis-Pineo, Associate Curator at Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft. First we toured her newest exhibit Fashioning Cascadia: The Social Life of the Garment, up until October 11th and if you haven’t checked it out move it to the top of your to-do list! Fashioning Cascadia asks the questions: What is being made here and why? How does the fashion industry shape the regional identity of the Pacific Northwest? It’s a fascinating exhibit that Sarah executed beautifully, we left with a sense of pride for the creativity that the Pacific Northwest has. Some of our favorite designers participated in the show including Liza Rietz, Alexa Stark, Adam Arnold and Portland Garment Factory. Sarah showed us some of the behind the scenes like the storage area full with stunning ceramics and textiles, her work space that was stocked with interesting art books. We wrapped up our visit by observing Sarah unload a shipment of work for a future exhibit by artist Abigail Anne Newbold. The exhibit opens September 4th at the Philip Feldman Gallery + Project Space, Pacific Northwest College of Art. It was great getting to see the work environment of a curator especially one at a Museum that is doing such great work showcasing and archiving craft in our region. Enjoy our visit with the lovely Sarah Margolis-Pineo.
1. Why Portland? What was it that drew you to Portland or has kept you here?
I relocated from Detroit to Portland about two years ago for this position at Museum of Contemporary Craft. The Museum Director at the time, Namita Gupta Wiggers, was someone I have admired for many years for her scholarship in the field of craft and design, as well as for her alternative strategies of organizing exhibitions -- shows that go beyond putting objects on a wall or pedestal to engage the public in unique and innovative ways. All this goes to say that it was the Museum that drew me to Portland, but it is the inspiring community of makers, do-ers, and hackers that continues to keep me engaged in the thriving cultural life of the region.
2. What are your favorite things happening in Portland (design or otherwise)?
I have always been interested in cooperative making and marketing strategies -- individuals who support each other through shared workspaces and business resources. You see this type of collaboration across the city in various fields, from food to fashion. What interests me is the transmission of knowledge -- almost in the apprenticeship or workshop model -- that happens in these scenarios. So much of the tactile knowledge produced by making something has been lost by the structures of education as well as our systems of value. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a young designer/maker leveraging craft and design fundamentals alongside all the advantages that digital technology has to offer.
3. How did you start curating?
I have an undergraduate degree in Art History, and an MA in Exhibition and Curatorial Studies. I have worked for museums between Portland, OR and Portland, ME, always with a strong emphasis on craft and design.
4. What has been your biggest obstacle?
The curatorial field, like many creative disciplines, is for hustlers -- there are countless recent graduates with Curatorial Studies and Arts Administration degrees and, in this town, there are only two museums and a handful of galleries and cultural non-profits. It took a number of years of around-the-clock research, writing, networking, to get myself to a position where I actually have some creative agency within a supportive institution.
5. What or who inspires your curatorial practice?
The makers. I try to organize exhibitions inspired by the creative work of the featured artists, opposed to overlaying some sort of heavy-handed concept and selecting work that fits into my narrow vision of things. For so many years, the curator was invisible, but now there is this brand of international uber curator -- a visionary, creative force in the contemporary art landscape. It is my intent to highlight connections between things, initiating dialogue, imagination, and critique, in a way that is open and accessible to audiences, rather than shrouded by esoteric art speak. I suppose that's why I'm drawn to conversations about craft and design. The challenge of working with this subject is bringing attention to the stuff of everyday life in a way that provokes a viewer to think differently—or at all—about mundane interactions with the manufactured landscape. For example, my most recent project, Fashioning Cascadia: The Social Life of the Garment, (May 9 - October 11, 2014), is an exhibition that explores the craft of clothing from the perspective of both maker and user. Through an exhibition of garments, participatory points of engagement, and ongoing artists working in residence, this exhibition is a call to action, inviting the viewer examine his/her own relationship to dress, considering the ways one wears, consumes, and reflects on clothing day-to-day.
6.What are your favorite things about Portland?
Is it cliche to say the access to nature? Without question, my favorite thing about Portland is the fact that I have the largest urban public park in the country as my backyard. I'm a runner, so access to trails is non-negotiable -- it keeps me balanced.
7. What is your favorite part of your studio?
I consider the Museum of Contemporary Craft my studio. The most fantastic part about working here is that we welcome the public in to engage and reflect on a daily basis. I am able to see the often visceral reactions to the exhibitions that we produce, which is a truly powerful thing.
8. Your favorite thing about your workspace?
When the clutter of my desk gets to be too overwhelming, I can always retreat to our really spectacular roof deck.
9. Tell us two truths and a lie!
Wait... There's no roof deck at MoCC! (Shhhhh!)
The Museum is managed in partnership with Pacific Northwest College of Art and will officially be integrated as a department of the college in 2015.
The Museum's upcoming exhibition is Show PDX: A Decade of Furniture Design in Portland, opening October 31, 2014.
10. The top five most disturbing, non-plot related, X-Files episodes, (entirely from memory):
1. The episode with the inbred family that keeps killing off fucked-up newborn infants. There's that creepy, old-timey song that plays throughout the episode and the mom lives underneath the bed on a rolling cart.
2. The agents get trapped in that Antarctic research station of some kind and where a mushroom alien fungus is on the loose. It infects the researchers' bodies, exploding out their necks in a giant fungus-y protrusion that shoots spores everywhere, (subtle, X-Files). As if that's not terrible enough, the only way to kill it is by putting a worm down the infected person's ear canal.
3. Scully gets kidnapped by a cult after she stops for gas in some remote locale and her gas tank is filled up with water. The cult straps her to a bed and then infect her with an snake-like organism that enters her body by burying into the base of her spine.
4. Indian mystic amputee with squeaking cart climbs IN TO his victim's bodies.
5. When the agents stumble on some hallucinogenic mushrooms and are sucked underground to be digested by a giant, green slime, human-eating, plant-based organism. There are many false endings, all of which desive into green digestive enzyme ooze.